The Ottawa Senators may still be angry at Matt Cooke for his role in the Achilles injury sustained by Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, but the players realize it's far more important to win their hockey game Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Cooke and the Penguins will play the Senators for the first time since Feb. 13, when Cooke stepped on the back of Karlsson's left leg during a check along the boards, causing a 70-percent tear of the Achilles tendon, which required surgery.
The Senators have survived the absence of Karlsson -- among other impact players -- to enter the game Monday in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and possessing a chance to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A Senators win combined with a Buffalo Sabres win in regulation against the Winnipeg Jets would put the Senators back into the postseason.
With that on the line, Cooke becomes a secondary issue.
"We haven't thought much about that," Senators forward Zack Smith told the Ottawa Sun. "It will be the first matchup since the incident, but at the same time, we're trying to make the playoffs. I don't think we need that to be a distraction."
"We'll play him hard, but we'll keep it clean," Senators defenseman Marc Methot told the Ottawa Citizen. "Our goal is to get the two points and move on."
Cooke said he isn't interested in engaging in anything other than trying to win a game the Penguins need to keep pace in the race for the Presidents' Trophy and get ready for the playoffs. A Penguins loss in regulation, combined with a win by the Chicago Blackhawks against the Vancouver Canucks, would give the Hawks the top spot in the League standings.
"We have a chance to catch Chicago and that's our goal," Cooke said. "We're in a situation where we're in preparation for the playoffs and getting our game where it needs to be and that's what's most important [Monday]."
Cooke also reiterated what he's said before -- that he feels badly about what happened to Karlsson and that it was an accident.
"What happened between me and Erik is a completely freak accident," Cooke said. "I've said it before, I feel bad. I’m glad he's close to recovery and coming back. He's going to help his team."
Karlsson skated with the Senators at their morning skate, but he will not play Monday night.